Their last seven games have all been decided by one goal.
So yes the New Jersey Devils are adept at keeping it tight, and locked down. There are some things around the league that rarely change and if you like predictability, the Devils provide it.
But the surprise was that it was undrafted and lightly used backup goalie Keith Kinkaid shutting out the Kings, 1-0, not the highly regarded Cory Schneider. Kinkaid recorded his first NHL shutout, making 28 saves, including 12 in the third period when the Kings finally provided some pushback at Prudential Center.
The lone goal allowed by Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth was from Devils defenseman David Schlemko, coming on the power play, through traffic at 5 minutes 19 seconds of the first period. Kings center Vinny Lecavalier had gone off for hooking Reid Boucher and the Devils needed only four seconds to score the power-play goal.
“It was frustrating because we knew ahead of time that their power play was the reason they’re winning games lately,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “And we gave up an early power-play goal and they kind of sat back and played the system the Devils have played for years.”
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was injured in the final few seconds Tuesday at Boston, and since then they’ve recorded one win in the three games he has missed. Peter Budaj, who got the victory Friday against the New York Rangers, was the backup goaltender Sunday afternoon.
The Devils played, and won, on Saturday at Philadelphia.
“We’re playing against a team that’s got the best goals against in the league,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “When you’re playing three games in 3 1/2 days, we need to get a little bit more out of the guys that don’t play much, normally.”
Kings center Anze Kopitar started the game with left wing Milan Lucic and captain Dustin Brown. Sutter tweaked the lines as the game went along. He gave left wing Kyle Clifford a look on the Kopitar line, and put Lucic with center Jeff Carter and right wing Tyler Toffoli and kept on looking for solutions.
“After [Marian] Gaborik got hurt, we’ve got one left winger that’s been scoring and five that haven’t,” Sutter said. “Moving them around a little bit, trying to get somebody going. If not, then we probably gotta look at somebody in Ontario. “
Presumably, that would be Michael Mersch at the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
Gaborik was injured in the first period against the Rangers on Friday and went home for further evaluation. More will be known about his status after he has an MRI exam on his left knee.
The Kings didn’t really test Kinkaid until in the final few minutes, in particular, after they pulled Enroth for an extra attacker with 1:27 remaining.
“We need to get more chances throughout the game and not wait for those last five minutes,” Doughty said. “We could have created more.”
Their best scoring chance came from Trevor Lewis with about 1:35 left, hitting Kinkaid’s skate and the post. Said Doughty, of Lewis: “I don’t know how it didn’t go in.”
“I saw it go off the post and kind of roll across the goal line,” Schlemko said. “I just tried to get low and make sure I was under Lewis’ stick and try and get it out of there.”
For Kinkaid, it was his first victory since Dec. 29. “It’s difficult,” New Jersey Coach John Hynes said. “Keith’s in a little bit of a unique situation where he’s probably played less games than most backups in the league. It’s that ability to stay ready when you go through periods of time where you don’t play.
“And then when you get your start, you still have to be yourself.”
The Kings are 2-2 on this trip, and Sutter summed up the afternoon, as only he can. It was mentioned to him that the Kings didn’t have much luck against the Devils.
“There’s no luck in this game,” Sutter said. “Games are close. If you are relying on luck, you’re in the wrong league.”